One is in Brazil, specifically Rio at this moment in time.
As time is short, one shall be laconic – postcard laconic.
One does not like to speak in trite superlatives, but this country is magnificent – beautiful scenery, beautiful weather and beautiful women.
One could live here. In fact, one would quite happily die here; retiring somewhere in between.
Physically, Rio itself is a city of beauty; in a rather Latin type of way.
Viewed from the top of the natural monolith that is the redoubtable Sugarloaf Mountain, Rio is an unlikely mix of resplendent chalk-white tower blocks, verdant mountains and lush rainforest, altogether creating a cityscape of immense pulchritude. Its densely packed, multi-coloured, box-like structures that together make up the favelas, also add themselves to the mix, proliferating midway up mountains and hills that dominate the view. Watching the sunset disappear behind the horizon is indeed a sight to behold. However, the coup de grace are the beaches. Even when viewed from afar, one cannot help but be mesmerised as the natural curves and soft white sands of the Copacabana are lapped by the waves of an ultramarine sea.
In fact for Cariocas, as the inhabitants of Rio are known, life indeed is a beach.
To this casual observer, the beach appears to be the centre of life in Rio. Whatever the time of day, the Copacabana, Leblon and Ipanea are filled with the rich tapestry of folk that make up Brazilian life – old, young, rich, poor, black, white and everybody else that make up this most diverse of peoples. In addition to being a place of rest and relaxation, it is no contradiction to say that the beaches are also a hive of activity. Whether kids playing football, ladies playing beach volleyball or street vendors selling water crying out “agua”, long after one’s departure, there is much on the beach that will imprint itself forever on the mind’s eye. However, the biggest spectacle has been the fiesta that is the Rio Carnival.
It is a city very much made for gallivanting to the heart’s desire.
Neither photos nor words do justice to this event; one simply has to be there. One would opine, that it is the mother of all carnivals. The pinnacle of carnival season is the Sambadromo, where the main parade takes place. It could be said that this is something to be added to these so-called bucket lists. The sheer scale and size of it is immense. It is a riot of colour, with the parade highly choreographed to an impressive degree. Gigantic floats, which in themselves are a work of art, invoke a sense of awe, not only due to their size, but also with their attention to detail. The passion and verve of the crowd add to the occasion as they cheer for their respective samba schools; these schools being performing groups that hail from neighbourhoods across Rio. One concludes, that it is a spectacle of great magnificence.
Being carnival season, there are associated street parties galore replete with an atmosphere of unbridled joy and merriment. Throngs of revellers pack the streets throughout the day and night, many in costume, dancing to an eclectic mix of rhythms. The scene is the embodiment of the joie de vivre of the Carioca. Indeed, Rio is very much a city in which one can have a “good time”. For it is a city very much made for gallivanting to the heart’s desire.
One hastens to add, that there is more to Rio than partying and hedonism. The proliferation of forests and steep hillsides lends the city to taxing but satisfying hikes, where one cannot help but note the spectacular flora and fauna that abound. High up in the hills one can experience a state of peace and tranquillity, away from the razzmatazz of the lower reaches of the city. The sight of flocks of birds of great grace and beauty, soaring high in formation, add to the serenity of the surroundings. It is nature at its finest.
A visit to the favelas is worth undertaking, if only to garner a balanced view of the city. Indeed, there is a great contrast between the aforementioned dwelling places and the Rio of first impressions. Rio, generally, is a city of modernity in the mode of the West. The infrastructure is decent and modern amenities abound. However, though the favela one visited, Rochina, did not, on the surface at least, appear to be the dystopia depicted in City of God, it is a world away from the ‘face’ of the city. The shacks, poor roads, general dilapidation and lack of amenities are indicative of this. Though in all honesty, there was nothing particularly “shocking” seen by this observer; just a stark contrast to what one had hitherto seen and experienced. Its inhabitants are just normal people going about their everyday lives – albeit with their own particular issues unique to their environment. There is much resourcefulness and creativity to be found in the favelas. One cannot fail to notice the plethora of small businesses and artisans that abound, from tailors to metal workshops. It is no coincidence that the majority of the samba schools originate from the favelas.
For a city that is reputed to be particularly dangerous, one cannot say that he has personally felt threatened or felt on edge. Of course, it helps to blend in and to avoid appearing as a visitor, but one has not felt a heightened sense of danger – touch wood as the superstitious say. That being said, one did observe a robbery of a man, by a group of urchins, as he left a bank; the victim’s attempts to fight back were met by a barrage of kicks and blows. This thus is a salutary lesson for one not to lapse into complacency.
Cariocas, in one’s personal experience, are generally pleasant and outgoing. Though one’s lack of Portuguese prohibits any deep and meaningful interaction beyond general pleasantries. It helps to have at least a smattering of the local tongue, as those with a command of English are rare. For there is a limit to the usefulness of hand-gestures and the drawing of doodles.
One cannot help but note that self-confidence in who they are is particular trait of the Brazilian identity
One cannot fail to observe the general attractiveness of the female populace – and it is not just because many of them wear very little. They possess a certain je ne se quoi sexiness; moving with a particular swaying grace, blessing the ground rhythmically with every step. It is enough for one to want to learn Portuguese.
In fact, as the dictates of heat and humidity demand comfort, wearing very little is common in Brazil – male or female, whether they are on the beach or not. The body confidence displayed by both sexes, whatever their size or shape, is most admirable. One cannot help but note that self-confidence in who they are is particular trait of the Brazilian identity; that and a sense of oneness. Despite the great diversity of extraction, and evident inequality, there appears to be a genuine sense of being Brazilian – for out of many, they are truly one people.
As one earlier said, he shall be laconic. Next stop, Sao Paolo.